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Terror in the Name of God: Why Religious Militants Kill [Paperback]

Jessica Stern
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (53 customer reviews)

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Book Description

August 17, 2004

For four years, Jessica Stern interviewed extremist members of three religions around the world: Christians, Jews, and Muslims. Traveling extensively—to refugee camps in Lebanon, to religious schools in Pakistan, to prisons in Amman, Asqelon, and Pensacola—she discovered that the Islamic jihadi in the mountains of Pakistan and the Christian fundamentalist bomber in Oklahoma have much in common.

Based on her vast research, Stern lucidly explains how terrorist organizations are formed by opportunistic leaders who—using religion as both motivation and justification—recruit the disenfranchised. She depicts how moral fervor is transformed into sophisticated organizations that strive for money, power, and attention.

Jessica Stern's extensive interaction with the faces behind the terror provide unprecedented insight into acts of inexplicable horror, and enable her to suggest how terrorism can most effectively be countered.

A crucial book on terrorism, Terror in the Name of God is a brilliant and thought-provoking work.


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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Stern, a former fellow on terrorism at the Council on Foreign Relations (and the inspiration for Nicole Kidman's character in The Peacemaker), makes the issue personal by depicting her encounters with religious terrorists around the world. Her definition of "religious terrorism" is comprehensive, encompassing the growing Muslim jihad in Indonesia, militant Palestinians and zealous Israelis, and Americans who kill abortion doctors in the name of Christ. Given the opportunity to articulate their positions, these and other subjects surprise not by their vehemence but by their relative normality, making it all the more curious that many of them eventually elect to strike against their opponents with deadly force. Explaining the "how" therefore becomes as important as explaining the "why," and the book carefully outlines the ways in which militant leaders of all denominations find recruits among the disenfranchised and recondition them, often under cultlike conditions, stoking their zealotry to the point of suicide and murder. Coupled with additional research, Stern's firsthand encounters bring a valuable and much-needed perspective to the problem of religious violence, and she identifies several increasingly broad threats, including the extent to which many governments will tolerate or even sponsor militant religious groups to further their own political agendas. For all the material damage terrorist acts cause, Stern argues, we should understand religious militance as a form of psychological warfare, calculated to bolster the faithful and strike "spiritual dread" in the unbelievers; the most effective counterstrategy is thus not violence but nonviolent techniques such as psychological counterwarfare and the reaffimation of our own values.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From The New Yorker

This sophisticated examination of religiously motivated terrorism is a welcome antidote to the armchair analyses of Islamic extremism that surfaced in the wake of September 11th. Stern spent five years interviewing religious terrorists of all stripes, including anti-abortion crusaders, Hamas leaders, and militants in Pakistan and Indonesia. She found men and women who were driven not by nihilistic rage or lunacy but by a deep faith in the justice of their causes and in the possibility of transforming the world through violence. That faith, Stern suggests, is fuelled by poverty, repression, and a sense of humiliation, and then exploited by "inspirational leaders" who turn confused people into killers. The West cannot fight terror by intelligence and military means alone, she argues; a "smarter realpolitik approach" toward the developing world would use policy to deprive terrorists of not only funding and weapons but potential recruits.
Copyright © 2005 The New Yorker

Product Details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial (August 17, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060505338
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060505332
  • Product Dimensions: 8.1 x 5.4 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (53 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #46,435 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Jessica Stern is one of the foremost experts on terrorism. She serves on the Hoover Institution Task Force on National Security and Law. In 2009, she was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship for her work on trauma and violence. Jessica is a member of the Trilateral Commission and the Council on Foreign Relations. She was named a Council on Foreign Relations International Affairs Fellow, National Fellow at the Hoover Institution, fellow of the World Economic Forum, and a Harvard MacArthur Fellow.

She has authored TERROR IN THE NAME OF GOD: Why Religious Militants Kill, selected by the New York Times as a notable book of the year; THE ULTIMATE TERRORISTS; and numerous articles on terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. She served on President Clinton's National Security Council Staff in 1994-95 (read a May 1995 letter and July 1995 letter from the President and this note from the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs expressing their gratitude for her work and contribution).

Jessica was included in Time magazine's series profiling 100 people with bold ideas. The film, "The Peacemaker", with Nicole Kidman and George Clooney, was based on a fictional version of Jessica's work at the National Security Council. Her new book, DENIAL: A Memoir of Terror, is now available, published by Ecco, a HarperCollins imprint. She lives in Cambridge, MA.

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
100 of 105 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A cogent, well thought out treatise by a serious thinker September 26, 2003
By A Customer
Format:Hardcover
I was shocked by the ferocity with which a couple of reviewers panned this book. It reminded me of the initial outcry and emotional vetting that took place right after 9/11. Tellingly, at that moment when a vast majority of the civilian population was screaming for blood, it was the military who pushed for calmer heads to prevail. Knowing your enemy is a big part of suceeding and if we as Americans can be faulted with anything, it's our arrogance. I submit that being able to mentally hold an idea and at the same time not agreeing with it is a level of intellectual prowess not acheived by some reveiwers.
This book is fantastic. I could not put it down. Unlike most books of this sort which by necessity rely primarily on anecdotal evidence, this is serious work. It is closer to hard science in its procedure than most of the rabble rousing goobly gook masquerading as serious books on terrorism.
Prof. Stern is not trying to morally equate anything. She simply tries to expose some terrorist core motivations which are decidedly different from those of a soldier. Traditional phase-line thinking will not win thin war on terrorism. We need more thinkers of Stern's ilk to raise the level of the discourse.
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45 of 47 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent framework for understanding terrorism October 30, 2003
Format:Hardcover
In surveying books on terrorism for my college course, I found this one of the best. Wish it wasn't hardcover!
Stern analyzes the different types of reasons for terrorism (humiliation, alienation, demographics, territory, and history) and explains both on the psychological and sociological level how they operate. She also explains how the different methods of terrorism operate to bring about the psychological trance/bliss state, how terrorists become as well as their logistical operations. She describes charismatic leaders, commanders and cadres, lone wolves, and freelance franchises as forms of organization and the sometimes mixed motives of their members. She discusses terrorist organizations' relationships with states, weapons acquistion and type, recruit training, and techniques to enhance commitment.
The book covers much the same territory that Mark Juergensmeyer's "Terror in the Mind of God" covers. He does it more elegantly, with more depth, and with many of the same insights and conclusions, but Stern provides more information on the nature of organizations and a better categorization of motives. This is the broader book.
If you have strong ideological beliefs or interests in parties involved with or affected by terrorism, you probably won't like the book. Christian terrorism and Jewish terrorism exist, albeit on a vastly lower level than Islamic terrorism at the moment, but the forces behind all kinds of terrorism have much in common, as this book points out. If we can't get past emotional reactions and judgments to understand why and how these terrible and tragic events occur, then we only contribute to their perpetuation, not their alleviation.
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42 of 47 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Straight from the terrorist's mouth September 6, 2003
Format:Hardcover
With the avalanche of books on terrorism and Islam cluttering the bookstores and library shelves, I was hesitant to plunge into this one. I am glad I reconsidered. It is a remarkable account using primary sources, primarily insiders or inmates who have been active in pursuing their perfidious goals. Many are the actual villains in some of the high profile terrorist crimes of our era.
Sparing a lot of details and personalities, you can discover them for yourself, it is enough to say that Stern has traveled the globe to conduct her interviews and compile her research. From American Fundamentalists with their addiction to targeting abortion clinics for destruction; to Hamas; Indonesians, Pakistanis et al committed to their respective jihads, the author gives a comprehensive, and often eye opening glimpse at the inside operations of a vast cross section of groups.
In establishing a common thread of psychological and economic profiles of the recruits for various terrorist groups, Stern provides useful insight for those wishing to comprehend some of the most menacing ideologues in our modern world. The story is all the more remarkable as Stern is an American professor, female, and Jewish; yet she manages, occasionally at potential risk to her safety, to penetrate conservative Muslim strongholds to obtain her information.
This is scholarly, but still well organized and readable, and I highly recommend it as a first stop for anyone seeking to get a good handle on this important issue.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover
Timely for her insight into the psychology of religious militarism, Jessica Stern investigates the factors that create terrorism. Written in narrative format, the author interviews members of several militant movements in order to understand how religion can be used as a tool of violence. By dividing the book into two parts, Stern first examines the factors leading to religious terrorism, and in the second part of the book, she studies typical terrorist organizational structures. Written in the last two years, Stern concludes with public policy implications to counter the rise of religious terrorism.

In each chapter in the first part of her book, Stern interviews religious militants from differing religions in order to uncover the factors that increase the likelihood a person will join and remain in a terrorist organization. Although "fun and profit" (5) provide incentives for religious militancy, Stern believes five other factors influence the decision to join in a jihad. Whether real or perceived humiliation, terrorist leaders have learned to harvest the outrage youth feel against occupying powers. Because of the oppression of these powers, terrorist organizations set up legitimate charitable organizations to ease the suffering of the oppressed class. Youth join terrorist organizations to strike back against their oppressors because of their alienation and humiliation, and out of a sense of obligation to return the favor to those terrorist organizations that provide charitable relief to their families. Ethnic demographics also play a key role in terrorism. When a government creates a "policy [that] deliberately shifts an ethno-religious mix" (62) (i.e., a migration policy), the power of the once dominant ethnicity becomes weakened.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Good read
The writing is clear and easy to read. The research covered a broad range of terrorism. It is very useful for my studies.
Published 3 months ago by Daniel
5.0 out of 5 stars Stern is brilliant
Read this book for research after borrowing the book from the library, I bought it. It's very informative and insightful if you're interested in why terrorists do what they do. Read more
Published 4 months ago by A. Bonanno
4.0 out of 5 stars Analysis of Terrorist
This book was very interesting. It consists of interviews with terrorists. Both American and foreign were interviewed to examine their motivation for killing.
Published 4 months ago by Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars Very insightful.
Very insightful. Ms Stern takes the reader to the interview with terrorists and lets them speak for themselves. Truly revealing.
Published 7 months ago by Jennifer L. Hickman
4.0 out of 5 stars Understanding the World Today
Very topical in this day and age when secularists try and purge religions from everything and terrorists try and impose it on everything. Read more
Published 8 months ago by Ronald J. Kramer
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Book!
Want to know more about Terrorism and Terrorists? Read this book. Stern keeps you entertained while she tells you about what drives terrorists to kill.
Published 9 months ago by DR. strangelove
5.0 out of 5 stars Good study in terror
This book is really thought provoking. The author presents a researched argument indicating the reasons (or mixture of reasons) that lead to people committing religious terrorism. Read more
Published 12 months ago by Angela
5.0 out of 5 stars Not exactly what I expected
I'd never heard of Jessica Stern before. When I read the blurb on the back of this book, I was a bit skeptical. Read more
Published 24 months ago by David W. Nicholas
4.0 out of 5 stars In God We Terrorize
Jessica Stern's Terror in the God is a revealing analysis of what happens when ideas and places are mixed with god and given a divinely purpose. Read more
Published on February 13, 2011 by Michael Griswold
2.0 out of 5 stars Terrifying Absence of an Editor
I knew I was headed for trouble when I found that the jacket materials of her book have defined this author to be the preeminent authority on terrorism today--a preposterously... Read more
Published on August 25, 2010 by Richard S. Moore
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